Written by Susan W. Smith
posted on August 13, 2011 22:35
“My Mom and I have this collection of stereograph cards, and we want to share it,” Tom French told me over the telephone and Tom’s idea of sharing meant more than just publishing their photographs. His ability to gather historical information about the people, places and events captured in their collection of 1,500+ cards, all more than a century old, is what made his “sharing” so important. The results will be available for everyone in September when River Views: A History of the Thousand Islands in 3-D will be for sale.
When Tom French introduced himself, I immediately recognized his family. His mother Nellie and her husband Steve Taylor are well known in the Thousand Islands and both are as passionate about preserving the history and promoting the region as I am. However, after a few minutes of conversation, I realized that Tom was someone to whom I owe a debt of gratitude.
In June, Tom gave me the introductory chapter from his book to publish in our June TI Life and I began to learn how much he and his mother, Nellie, appreciate the “artistry” of both the early photographs and their collectors.
Tom and his mother began collecting stereographs in the 1990s. “I happened upon a stereocard on eBay, and I purchased it for my mother’s birthday – and so the quest, for us, began.” Tom and Nellie joined together to collect and over time they met other collectors. “We competed with a handful of other collectors (some of whose cards are displayed in River Views) in what seemed like a gold rush of stereoviews. Bidding was heated at times.”
“We met two other collectors whose cards were collected long before eBay brought them to us. Jack Brown, a retired Canadian teacher who also volunteers at the Leeds & Grenville Genealogical Society at the Brockville Museum, has been collecting since the 1960s. His collection goes beyond the Thousand Islands and probably numbers in the in the tens of thousands. Dan Grant, from Clayton, began collecting in the 1970s. Both spent many days visiting books shops and antique shows on their quest. Both generously shared their cards and their knowledge with me.”
Tom has selected more than 100 stereograph cards to tell the history of the Thousand Islands. The book was designed by award-winning Canadian graphic designer, Dave O’Malley of Aerographics Creative Services in Ottawa. His work is well known in the region as he has produced all of Ian Coristine’s books.
Three chapters provide an outstanding overview: 1) The River Becomes a Destination, 2) The First Summer People and Private Camps, and 3) Religious Camp Meeting Grounds.
Tucked into the back of the book is a “Loreo” stereoviewer and an explanation of how these unique viewing machines were developed. “The original handheld views, invented in 1861 by Oliver Wendell Holmes (father of the Supreme Court Justice), involved placing the card in the cradle, looking into the viewer, and sliding the card back and forth along the viewer’s spine until the image came into focus and 3-D.”
As the Editor of Thousand Islands Life.com and one who is constantly learning about the history of the region, I give River Views: A History of the Thousand Islands in 3-D the highest- possible praise. Each photo was carefully selected. Often, Tom would discover that the photograph held additional, or obscure, objects (see photo and caption above). His tenacity to find the stories behind these oddities makes history come alive. A thoroughly-enjoyable book, it would be a welcome addition to your library or that of a friend!
By Susan W. Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ian Coristine gives high praise:
How can one not feel deep gratitude towards Tom French and his mom Nellie, not only for sharing their treasure trove of historic stereoscopic images of the islands, but for going out on the financial limb necessary to reproduce them in a beautiful volume we all can enjoy. I can only imagine how much time, effort and expense went into collecting these rare images, not to mention the energy required to research every one of them, then forge them into a high quality presentation and shepherd it through the challenges of publishing.
When I first came here in 1995, I could find remarkably few books about the amazing place I had stumbled upon and so badly wanted to learn more about. There had been a single exceptional book produced in nineteenth century, Jno. A Haddock's fascinating look at the river in his 1895 volume The Picturesque St. Lawrence River, but very few had been produced since.
About that time, the book situation began to improve as other passionate individuals made efforts to share their historical knowledge of the river. Susie Smith published her incredible historical overview of the islands, The First Summer People. Paul Malo's trilogy brought alive the gilded age in Boldt Castle, Fools' Paradise and A Floating World. More recently, Donna Walsh Inglehart's Grindstone painted a fascinating image of life here in 1865, before the gilded age began, a very different place from what followed.
These historic books are an invaluable record of this place as it once was, connecting us to the landmarks which were left behind and reminding us that we are not the first who have held the river in high regard.
River Views: A History of the 1000 Islands in 3-D is now available at the pre-sale price of $38.00 until August 31. This includes free delivery for US addresses. The 3-D Viewer is included. The book will sell for $45.00. For more information and a preview of the book see: www.tom-french.net.
It will be available in September at local stores such as available at: Corbin's River Heritage in Clayton, Earth to Spirit in Kingston, the Arthur Child Heritage Museum in Gananoque, and Leeds County Books in Brockville, or on www.tom-french.net. In September the book will also be available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615460321.
Slide show: Sample pages from River Views by Tom French. (note: some photos are automatically “cropped” by the slide show software, but will appear whole in the book).